Equality Bill compliance
The new Equality Bill comes in to force soon, bringing together a wide range of legislation covering equality, access and discrimination in many forms. The Bill represents a substantial Challenge to organisations because it is framed in such a way that you cannot ‘comply’ with the law, rather the organisation must be able to show that it has been guided by it and has acted to implement its principles.
Thus equality is not like health and safety. A health and safety inspector can appear on your doorstep inspect your premises and processes and give you a certificate. There can be no parallel equality inspectors. There may however, be a whole plethora of consultants styling themselves equality auditors who need have no qualifications what so ever and whose reports will be of uncertain value.
The essential first step is to recognise that neither you nor your organisation can completely prevent individuals acting in a discriminatory manner. What will be critical is to show that the organisation has created an environment that actively encourages diversity, acts to minimise and ultimately eradicate discrimination against any of the protected groups, and works to ensure equality for all.
How can you show that you are creating such a culture? The essential process is measurement. Where is your culture with respect to equality, diversity, discrimination now? What steps are planned to improve the situation, what is the time scale for implementing these steps, and what measures are in place to show that you are achieving the planned improvements?
Senior management commitment
The very first measures should be to focus on what your senior management teams know and understand about the equality agenda, develop and deliver some effective training for them, and then measure their understanding and commitment to the issues afterwards.
In the end though the most important factor in developing the right culture is senior management commitment. Many senior managers don’t even realise that its their role, they see the equality agenda as belonging to HR while they get on with the serious business of running the organisation.
Once your top management has a greater understanding of the issues, then the next step is naturally to take a view on how the organisation is performing now.
This sounds straightforward, but in practice often raises many questions. Lets take just one issue – workforce diversity. How do you know if you are diverse enough? If you live in a small, isolated town or village that may be easy to define, but what if you are based in the middle of London or Birmingham? Similarly, if you employ fewer than five people (and over 95% of businesses fall into this category) what on earth does it mean? Do you have to have a ‘one of each’ approach?
In practice, you need to show that when seeking employees, you do not discriminate against any group, that means you must consciously and specifically have processes that check for discrimination in recruiting literature, have guidelines for those doing hiring interviews that help them avoid pitfalls in interviewing people from a wide range of cultural backgrounds, and of course, you should know the current cultural diversity of your workforce.
Prevention of inequality
If you had such practices in place and could show that they were implemented in good faith, and monitored by senior management, then a claim that the organisation discriminated in hiring ‘in general’ would be hard to make. Of course, an individual may still act in a way that is not appropriate, but the organisation could show that it had taken reasonable steps towards preventing such behaviour.
Thus the measures of the organisation’s commitment to the Equality Agenda is in effect a measure of the programmes, processes and policies in place that address the issues appropriately for the size and scale of the organisation.
Mapping out equality, diversity and inclusion
Why bother? It sounds like a lot of work, for not much reward. There are both carrots and sticks here. The stick is that, with the legislation in place, any organisation can be Challenged and risk ending up in a tribunal if it has not addressed these issues seriously. The carrots are twofold – first there is widespread evidence that relying on one section of the workforce (white men) for the majority of senior roles is to lose out on a bigger pool of talent. Second, once the Equality Bill is in place, all those bidding for public sector work will be expected to show how they are acting in the spirit of the legislation.
At The ROI Academy we are working with UKCAE (The UK Council for Access and Equality www.ukcae.co.uk) to create a practical measurement process for organisations following the UKCAE Pathway towards Equality.
So the message is, equality, diversity and inclusion is a journey not a destination. To show you are on that journey you need a map, and you need measures to show how far you have travelled.